For years we thought that great theories were great because they were great and true. Now we know they are great because they are interesting. And interesting does not always equeal true. Or entirely true.
Take this headline – People with slight overweight actually live longer. And being fit seems to be hazardous. This theory presented by the media (in a breaking news manner as most of research is presented nowadays) seems interesting because it totally undermines what we believed to be true. For years we’ve been told being fit is the way to go and that being fat is the fast way to go to… well eat dust. For people who share this idea, the (objective) truth behind this sentence does not matter much. What matters is that it goes against the grain and that we can relate to it.
Another example – Susan Pinker in her TED talk says – Here’s an intriguing fact. In the developed world, everywhere, women live an average of six to eight years longer than men do. Six to eight years longer. That’s, like, a huge gap. In 2015, the „Lancet” published an article showing that men in rich countries are twice as likely to die as women are at any age. She basically sums up what we know only to continue with the BUT. But there is one place in the world where men live as long as women. It’s a remote, mountainous zone, a blue zone, where super longevity is common to both sexes. This is the blue zone in […] I guess you cannot wait to find out where it is. Well, you’ll have to watch the talk. The thing is that this pattern can be seen in many talks when the presenter is grabbing our attention playing with what we assume to be true and what will be INTERESTING for us. This pattern has been long known and dates back to the 1970s when Murray Davies study was published. It actually deconstructs the INTERESTING and points to the fact that the key to intruiging is actually stating something that goes against the status quo.
Laura Vanderkam uses the same technique but she makes it more personal and therefore relatable. She starts her talk with this:
When people find out I write about time management, they assume two things. One is that I’m always on time, and I’m not. I have four small children, and I would like to blame them for my occasional tardiness, but sometimes it’s just not their fault. I was once late to my own speech on time management.
What she does fits the pattern – what we assume and what is the opposite of what we assume. Laura’s opening – attention grabbing intro has one more important factor – Laura opens her talk with a common experience we all share: running late. This is a strong way to open her presentation and spark a connection with her audience right from the top. Plus it is funny, so… she scores extra point. According to science what amuses us not only grabs our attention but also influences our social perception of the person who delivers the joke. WE like them more. And when we like people we listen to them and agree with them.
Laura’s likable personality shines throughout her Ted Talk and she uses real people as examples to show how to utilize free time. Which leads to next important method she is using and that is storytelling. I know – storytelling got as much attention as a presentation technique can get. But here’s what most people don’t know about storytelling. It is the only science proven technique that helps our brain communicate. And sync.
Laura’s short and sweet story about the woman with the broken water heater makes a huge impact on the presentation; it is easy to remember, it is a relatable experience, and it is the most revealing part in Laura’s explanation about finding free time. No one expects to come home to deal with a broken water heater and the mess it leaves behind. No one would plan out the 7 hours it took to get it fixed beforehand. How did the woman with the broken water heater get those extra 7 hours? She prioritized her schedule and put the broken water heater at the top of her list. As a viewer of this Ted Talk, this is a perfect example of how incorporating a story into your presentation can go a long way to leaving an impact on the audience. She also uses this story to prove her point – that we cannot MAKE more time, but time will stretch to accomodate what we CHOOSE to put into it.
Laura’s talk is also gerat because it is not just to inspire. She gives us strong and understandable Calls-to-Action. So it fits into the Intersting-Understandable-Actionable pattern.
Laura gives her audience a task to help them find extra time during the week. Make a list of three goals you want to achieve in your career, relationships, and yourself. She then asks the audience to prioritize time for these goals each week. This is an interesting call-to-action because she is not asking for anyone to buy her product or try a service, but she is instead selling a way of life and it is entirely up to the audience member to decide if they want to actively pursue that way of life. She is giving us choice and not PUSHING us.
So grab attention, make sure they understand and leave with actionable CTA. Easier said than done but with the above examples should be doable. The rest is practice. And constant inspiration. You can find it around you. The best writers are keen readers. The best presenters are keen listeners. Or as someone once said, not only are you what you eat. You become what you read and listen to. So choose carefully.